Coalition Gathers to Maintain Progress on Great Lakes Restoration Economic Recovery

Advocates Unite to Urge President Obama, U.S. Congress to Restore Great Lakes at 5th Annual Conference in Duluth.

09-10-2009 // Jeff Alexander

Environmental, business and civic leaders are gathering at the 5th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Duluth, Minn., to make a final push for Congressional action on a $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“The successes over the past year to restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy are significant, and we’ve got to keep moving forward,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, sponsor of the Duluth conference. “The serious threats to the Great Lakes demand sustained action to protect our drinking water, jobs, public health and way of life.”

Lakes face serious threats

Right now there are many signs that the Great Lakes are unhealthy: toxic chemicals, invasive species, sewage contamination, and disappearing habitats for wildlife.

These threats harm fish and wildlife. Unhealthy lakes also impact people in the form of closed beaches, fish consumption advisories and higher bills.

When the lakes are unhealthy, it is a drain on the economy and it means fewer jobs for the region. Just as disturbing, unhealthy Lakes mean fewer people can enjoy our beaches, our fishing, our waterways and our clean drinking water.

Restoring lakes boosts economy

Skelding said restoring the lakes would help the region’s economy. The Brookings Institution estimates that restoring the Great Lakes will generate at least $2 for every $1 investment—at least $50 billion in economic benefit to the eight-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Skelding said that delaying action would only allow problems affecting the lakes to become worse and more costly to address.

Restoration plan awaiting action in Congress

Participants will focus on how the $475 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which Congress is likely to approve this fall, can be invested to provide the maximum benefit to the largest fresh-water resource in the United States.

Proposed by President Barack Obama in his inaugural budget, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would invest in cleaning up contaminated sediments that threaten public health, preventing the introduction of invasive species that harm the economy and restoring fish and wildlife habitat that is the foundation of the region’s outdoor recreation industry.

Conference speakers will include: Cameron Davis, Great Lakes senior advisor to the administrator at the U.S. EPA; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. The annual conference is the largest gathering of Great Lakes advocates, elected officials and business leaders.

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